Note: I published this post first on November 26, 2020. Two days later, I removed it. A friend raised a question about the intellect’s capacity to understand Truth, and I realised then that my words were falling short of communicating what I intended to. This time the post in more true to my own experience and understanding. It will be wonderful if you read it and maybe even share your own beans of truth.
“Please excuse me, I have a book in my hands.“
That’s how precious Gora is. The 569-page masterpiece by Rabindranath Tagore is not a tome compared with the 1000-page book on mathematical theorems that my father handed me when I asked for help with a beginner-level math problem, as a junior college (high school) student. That book I was eager to hand back. But Gora, I could not put down. It revealed to me the brilliance of an insightful mind in its delicate ability to untie the strings of complex inner journeys, with a natural simplicity that brings humility and therefore joy to the mind of a reader.
What started gradually as a casual read of a page or two over my morning coffee, soon transformed into devoted immersion. I found myself surrendering to the beauty of an honest narrative that conveys insights beyond the grasp of the intellect.
Like a starved individual deprived of a meal for longer than the body can manage and mind can accept, I relished each word of Gora, with deep appreciation and abandon. How grateful I feel for this nourishment.
Gora is set in a time when women were secondary citizens of India, and yet the womenfolk in this story shone with the depth of purity, strength, and unconventional rebellion (often not illustrated in female heroes of an oppressed society). Their revolt was not that of a self-indulgent mind, it was a rebellion born of social injustice and inner awakening.
The male characters too were courageously trying to cross the chasm of ideas and beliefs that are thrust upon men in patriarchal societies. This made me think of how ideas limit an individual, while they give rise to and shape society.
Society may help organise individuals, but at the cost of intolerance for those beautiful differences that give life its shades and colour. The differences that are permitted by society divide us into groups—sectarianism is not a symbol of diversity! It leads to schisms, as we have witnessed through human history and are witnessing today in many seemingly pluralistic and liberal societies. Why else are civil rights not equal for all, LGBTQ+ included? Why is a temple being built, where a mosque once lay? Why do politicians not work with each other to serve the wellbeing of all people?
Diversity is an individual characteristic.
When we turn away from our diversity to see only a specific shade within ourselves and others, we rob ourselves of free will. The only true expression of free will, seems to me, is in our acceptance of individual diversity. Most else is a consequence of events that we do not control, if this were not true would we be worrying about or disregarding the presence of a highly contagious virus?
The characters in Gora, rise to wisdom and succumb to ignorance through their submission to gentleness, affection, trust, rebelliousness, arrogance, hurt, and hurtfulness. Aren’t these but shades of an individual? While different characters may represent each of these shades, there exists within each of us this varied spectrum displaying the richness of diversity.
How many of us have struggled at some point or the other to fit into the society we were born in? Have we never stripped ourselves of our particularities for fear of what lies outside the line? Even when we dare to venture, we find a group that we can identify with. Very few manage to step outside the line into an open space, where they reside in harmony with their changing nature.
Gora, through the interwoven lives of the characters and their individual journeys, shows how true understanding and freedom lie beyond the precincts of society, not by rejecting it but by not identifying with it. This subtle difference is illustrated in the heart’s journey towards Truth—not an absolute idea of what is correct and what falls short, but Truth as religion, manifest in its purest form as an accepting heart.
Gora, powerfully unveils the insufficiency of the intellect in solving the ills of society. The intellect by itself fails, deludes, and divides. Its ideas and ideologies, and its perceptions and reason drown in discord the consonance of an accepting heart. But beyond the reach of the intellect there flows a completely different stream of experience that challenges all ideas and perceptions. Reason cannot make sense of it and ideologies cannot restrict it. Only when the intellect surrenders to silence and when all views quieten can this flow be observed.
It is then that the intellect becomes insight, and hate is left behind.
The intellect now understands that ideas and ideologies differ, but experience is the same for you and I—your mind is agitated when you are subjected to criticism and injustice, so is mine; your mind hurts when your dignity is demeaned, so does mine; your mind fears the threat to physical safety, so does mine. When I acknowledge your right to emotional and mental wellbeing your mind is at ease, so is mine; when you stand up to safeguard my self-respect my mind rejoices, so does yours; when we can trust those around us our mind is in harmony, collectively.
Tagore wrote of this truth; S.N Goenka pointed out this truth; You and I can live this truth, if we choose to. All we need to do is to let go of ideas and ideologies, and surrender to silence.